We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is
when men are afraid of the light.
When someone turns on a light (or tries to examine suspicious assertions more closely), they scurry for a dark hiding place. Be skeptical of things that only "work" when no one is looking.
There's always room for doubt, but take care not to fabricate special circumstances just to make a conclusion seem wrong or less useful. What are you trying to accomplish by doubting? Is there a specific fact or assumption that could be tested, or do you just want an excuse to believe something else?
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.
It's not always easy to find someone who is exactly average. Unlike Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone, where "all the children are above average", if someone is above average, at least one other person in the group must be below average. If 3 people in the same group score 91, 94, and 10 on a test, their average score is 65. 2/3 are well above average and have a high score. None are close to average. 3 people in another group might take the same test and score 85, 80, and 84 for an average of 83. All are good scores and close to average. Which group is better? If you could choose one person, would you choose based on the group they're in, or based on their personal score? If you could choose 3 people, would you choose all 3 from the same group? When would you need to know which group is better?
Someone might say it's possible that people are manipulated by a mind-control ray from aliens orbiting the earth in a flying saucer. Like the possibility of getting 100,000,000 heads in a row, this doesn't seem impossible. Life elsewhere in the universe doesn't violate any known laws of science, and beings from another planet might develop the technology for remote mind control and space travel. In addition to the "not impossible" test, we should also consider relevant observations and ask a few basic questions:
The answers to the above questions don't necessarily make it impossible, but might substantially reduce the probability. Just as you probably don't want to devote your life to tossing a coin until you get 100,000,000 heads in a row, is it productive or useful to spend time wondering about mind control rays from flying saucers?
If you admit that one thing is possible, will you also admit that the alternatives are also possible?
Clinging to an insupportable conclusion may appear to minimize inconvenience or disruption of an established belief, but also slows progress, as it usually has no practical value or useful consequences. The truth (or best possible answer given the currently available information) usually provides a solid foundation to build on, and may help support or refute other conclusions. Remember the old advice, "Never argue with a fool". They usually don't respond to reason, and often drag you down to their level - after a few minutes, it's hard to tell who's the bigger fool.
The price of wisdom is eternal thought.
It's often tempting to generalize based on one or two specific instances, and sometimes that's all you have to go on, but usually that's just the beginning. Once you think you have a valid conclusion, try working it "backwards" to see if you can get back to the specific observations that got you started. Some people refer to this as a "sanity check" or a "reality check" because it scrutinizes the conclusion to make sure it's still consistent with all actual observations.
If there are exceptions, can you find a way to predict which future situations will follow the "rule" and which will be an exception? If your sanity check bounces, further refinements might be needed, or you might have to throw it out and start over.
Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain't that a big enough majority
in any town?
It might seem tempting to bolster a case with personal attacks, or by redirecting the discussion, but usually that's just trying to win the wrong argument.
Vilifying those on the other side of a dispute may be simpler than intelligently discussing complex issues, but even a fool can repeat a noble truth. Accusing someone of foolishness might incline others to believe that the person in question is indeed a fool, but doesn't necessarily mean that the persons words or actions were foolish in themselves.
The professor's neighbor and self-proclaimed philosopher, Mediocrates, claims that roofers have the best/worst job in the world. They get lots of time off because they can't work in the rain, but they don't make much money because when it's not raining, people don't need roofs. Such observations could easily be the source of an endless argument. One person might explain all the great things that could be done with lots of free time, while an opponent goes on about the hardships endured by those with low incomes. They could each produce ever lengthening lists of people who enjoy/endure the situation, and specific accomplishments/suffering resulting from such a job. Each claims victory by overwhelming evidence, but nothing gets resolved. They each argue about only one aspect of the job, and make no effort to address the others concerns.
Start with a thorough, impartial evaluation of all available evidence:
Is there a possible ulterior motive such as:
Are the claims only relevant to one special case or can it be generalized to other things?
If a position is based on cost or safety, is the same degree of safety or cost-consciousness expected from everything,
or just this one issue?
If there is significant evidence for more than one position (or insufficient evidence for reasonable certainty):
Are reasonable objections accounted for or just dismissed or ignored by changing the subject (the cockroach syndrome)? Does explaining away objections require adding more assumptions or greater complexity?
What circumstances or conditions led to the conclusion? Was it paid for, and if so, by whom?
The asymptote test: Is the conclusion reevaluated as new information becomes available?
It could turn out the earlier actions or decisions were reasonable under the circumstances, and those involved would agree that with more information or resources, things would have been different. Improving the outcome of future similar situations might require access to better information or resources.
If the investigation reveals mistakes or poor decisions, perhaps better training or people with different skills would produce a better result next time.
If those involved simply refuse to accept the results of the investigation, perhaps they're just making excuses.
The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward to question
Give me a grain of truth and I will mix it up with a great mass of falsehood so that
no chemist will ever be able to separate them.
Accusations are easily made and often difficult to disprove. If the accusation is hasty, frivolous, or poorly supported, the accused shouldn't have to spend time and effort disproving the charge, especially if the accuser can just come back with yet another casual accusation. Sometimes, those accused simply respond with accusations of their own.
In the name of "fairness" or "equal time" it might seem tempting to simply accept the accusation and then ask the accused to disprove it. There's nothing fair or equal about it. An accuser could make a casual accusation with little effort and no evidence, while the accused might need to invest substantial time and effort gathering evidence and presenting a convincing defense. If the accusation is a generality, such as "this person lies", or "this person is a thief", ask for specific examples.
Before seriously considering a casual accusation, demand more from accusers:
This shifts the burden to the accuser. Now the accused may be able to quickly respond by asking questions like:
Now go back and ask the accuser to summarize the additional information suggested by the accused and explain why it's wrong or irrelevant. If the accusation has little merit, accusers will probably give up once they realize that the burden of proof is on them.
The answer to either question could be "yes" or "no" so we have 4 possible combinations:
If the answers to question A and B are both "yes", then the answer to the entire question is "yes". If the answer to either question A or question B is "no" then the answer to the entire question is "no". Since question B is asked as a negative (Can God can not move a really big rock) only answer option 2 makes the answer to the original question "yes". The following table shows all possible answers to the original question.
Can God make a rock so big he can't move it?
God can move a really big rock.
God can not move a really big rock.
God can make a really big rock.
God can not make a really big rock.
This answer doesn't depend on logic so much as on careful definitions. You're walking in a circle, and the tree and squirrel are always inside the circle, but you and the squirrel would always be facing each other if the tree weren't in the way. The word "around" could be understood either way, and the exact meaning determines the answer to the question. If you understand "around" to mean that if the tree weren't there, you would see the squirrel from all sides (front, back, right, left) while walking "around", the answer is different than if you understand "around" to mean that the squirrel is always inside the circle you're making with your footprints.
So far, the existence of a Loch Ness Monster doesn't violate any known natural laws or principles, however the probability goes down with each new serious investigation:
The above objections might be explained by small numbers of very shy monsters that die instantly and immediately sink to the bottom where they quickly decompose, but now we're speculating about increasingly unlikely circumstances. These secondary speculations must be subjected to the same scrutiny as the original claim. Of course there's always room for doubt when the only argument against existence is a lack of reliable observations or an inability to explain certain details which in themselves are not impossible. Besides, people love a good mystery, and the discovery of such a creature would be very exciting.
Proof of nonexistence is much trickier to deal with. In general, you can't prove nonexistence in any absolute way since one can always fabricate explanations for the lack of direct evidence or observations. We can sometimes take an indirect approach and consider what else might be true if the subject of investigation really did exist. We could assume for instance that if there really were a Loch Ness Monster, it would eat, reproduce and die. This leads to several conclusions:
If we could show that none of those things were true, that would be very strong evidence of nonexistence.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Okum likes to ask, "What's the problem you're trying to solve?". Once you really understand that, don't fabricate a complex solution when a simple approach will get the results you want. If you see a picture of something on the surface of Mars that resembles a primate-like face, explore the simple solutions before jumping to conclusions about intelligent life on Mars. You might start by considering the size and contours of the "face", to see if they're consistent with the results of geologic or atmospheric forces such as wind, water, or crust movement similar to those on earth. Even a short hike in the mountains of earth often reveals natural formations that resemble something else. Most 3-year-olds can "find" all sorts of things in earthly cloud formations. It's just a result of normal brain functions and an active imagination. If the simple solution checks out, be very careful before seeking a more complex solution such as intelligent life on Mars. Attributing an apparently natural feature to living creators quickly leads to some important questions with no obvious answers:
The price of wisdom is eternal thought.
It's natural to associate with like-minded people, and having your opinions and conclusions validated by friends, speakers or authors who share your beliefs can be very gratifying. It can also make people so comfortable that they stop asking questions and no longer explore alternatives. Don't overlook the importance of an occasional, well-reasoned dissenting opinion.
How reliable is a first (and only) opinion? Many puzzles and brainteasers begin with a plausible situation, proceeding step by step, only to end with a seemingly irreconcilable contradiction. Zeno's Paradox is a famous example which concludes that motion is impossible by arguing that to reach any point, you must first pass the half-way point, the half-way point to the half-way point, etc. ultimately passing through an infinite number of intermediate points. Since passing through an infinite number of points would take forever, motion itself is therefore impossible, or at best an illusion. The "proof" that 1 equals 2 is another example. An isolated argument may seem reasonable at first, but is it really solid?
Zeno's Paradox ignores the fact that as you increase the number of intermediate points, the distance between the points (and the time to move between adjacent points) gets smaller, ultimately approaching zero as the number of points approaches infinity. The "1=2" argument sneaks in a division by 0.
A second opinion from someone reaching a different conclusion can help locate flaws in the original argument, but the second opinion should be scrutinized as carefully as the first.
Sometimes there just isn't enough information to be certain and even experts will disagree.
The intended implication is that only the proposed solution will prevent a catastrophe, but there are really 2 separate statements:
These two issues could be considered separately. Is action really required right now, and if so, what kind of action would be most appropriate?
If people disagree on significant aspects of the solution, more options would probably be helpful, especially if the proposed solutions are mutually exclusive.
"If I don't get $3000 right away, my life is ruined!"
This might start an argument with one person demanding $3000 and another refusing to provide it. Exploring the matter further might suggest alternatives.
"Why do you need the money?"
"To buy a car."
"Why do you need a car right now?"
"So I can get to work."
Someone started out by asking for $3000, but really wants transportation to work. This new information opens up new possibilities:
Finding alternatives isn't always easy, but some possible questions are:
Apart from carefully defined conditions, be very skeptical of any claims of variations in "truth". A good test of questionable claims would be to look for practical applications of the alternate "truth". If someone claims that "For me, 2+2=5. That's my reality", put that claim to a practical test. You get a stack of $1 bills, and have the other person get a stack of $5 bills. You give the other person $2, then another $2, and in return you get $5. Keep the exchange going all day.
Objective opinions can be compared and evaluated based upon the underlying factual information, which constitutes the basis of the opinion. One might say for instance "I believe the moon is made of swiss cheese. That's my opinion and I'm entitled to it." It is in fact an opinion, but has little value. If this person traveled to the moon, would they pack a lunch or just plan on scooping handfuls of cheese? This opinion has practical consequences, which can be used to judge the quality of the opinion.